In a recession fractional ownership is a much more affordable way to own a holiday home. But how does it work and can it ever be more than just a glorified timeshare? If anywhere can, then the Firstlight scheme at the Ireland's K Club can. Claire Mitchell went to find out.
More than a timeshare but without the hassle and stress of a second home, fractional ownership is an idea borne in the US that is gaining more credibility with British buyers.
In theory, it is a middle ground offering all the perks and none of the problems. As the name suggests, you are purchasing an actual share or fraction in the property, not just the 'right to use' as you do with a time share, which means the value of your investment should increase over time. And what's more, it comes without the responsibilities of outright ownership – property management and maintenance are invariably included, usually alongside a long list of additional benefits.
It sounds great. But in practice, can it ever be more than just a glorified time share? I headed to Ireland, where shared ownership specialists Firstlight have teamed up with the K Club resort to offer just such a fractional ownership scheme.
The K Club is a grand country hotel, most famous for its golfing pedigree (it has played host to 14 European Open Championships and to the 2006 Ryder Cup) but equally worthy of acclaim for its sheer luxury and glamour. It was the first resort in Ireland to achieve a five AA red star rating, and the celebrities know it. Famous faces who have rested their weary heads here include two former US presidents (Clinton and Bush Senior), Hollywood royalty (Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, and Samuel L Jackson), the Beckhams, and Bill Gates.
In the grounds of the hotel, on the edge of the golf course, is a residential estate called Ladycastle, filled with houses and apartments built as accommodation for the 2006 Ryder Cup. And it is these that are now up for fractional ownership. Firstlight The K Club has 33 of these luxury properties on offer, in a combination of two and three bedroom apartments and four bedroom detached houses.
On driving in to the Ladycastle estate, I was reminded of Wisteria Lane, or of those gated Florida communities – identikit cul de sacs filled with holiday home rentals a-go-go – although oddly not in a bad way. Admittedly, if exquisite architecture or period charm are your thing, these may not be for you, but by holiday home standards they're huge, they're innocuous and pretty enough on the outside, and really rather gorgeous within.
The house I stayed in, like all the others I saw there, was beautifully presented, neutral enough to remain inoffensive to anyone's tastes – a must, one supposes, when up to eight owners share – but with satisfyingly sumptuous details and finishes. Think chic furniture with a nod to rustic French style, Villeroy and Bosch, Gaggenau, plasma televisions, remote controlled sound systems, CCTV and mood lighting.
Each property has up to eight 'shared owners'. Each owner gets an individual titled interest in the property, with an allocation of six weeks use per year (four of which are allocated in advance and two at short notice), as well as access to the K Club's amenities and services. The price ranges from €160,000 and €325,500, depending on the property.
On top of this initial price, there is an annual service fee, ranging from €9,920 to €13,890. This covers property management, a dedicated 24-hour, seven days a week concierge service, housekeeping, nanny and babysitting services, golf buggies to drive around the estate on, and full use of the K Club amenities.
For those who worry about being pinned down to the same resort year after year, Firstlight are quick to point out that they are, after all, shared ownership specialists, and as such have over 40 other luxury resorts around the world owners can trade their weeks for (for a small fee), including hotels in South Africa, Hawaii, the USA, the Caribbean, Portugal and Britain.
The K Club is a golfer's paradise and those partial to the swing of a nine iron will find it difficult to trade their week here, with two championship courses so hallowed that Tiger Woods chooses to come to practice and acclimatise before European tournaments. Especially when the golf club, which normally comes with a five figure joining fee and a four figure annual membership fee, is included in the shared ownership package.
But this place, with its 550 acres of parkland on a mile-long stretch of the River Liffey, is not just a playground for golfers. For I, who had never picked up a golf club before, found there was plenty to keep me entertained. During my stay, I indulged in clay pigeon shooting, a wonderful afternoon in the K Spa, and a cycle ride around the grounds. Firstlight also offer fly fishing, archery, falconry, and art tours, amongst other things, although not all of these activities are covered by the service fee and may require additional payment.
I did dabble in golf too – I had a lesson with a wonderful and very patient pro, Michael Dixon, whose flattery about my grip and posture 'of a natural' almost made up for the number of times I took a swing to find the ball had stayed put and a divot of grass was flying towards an unsuspecting passing crow.
And after all that activity, I sought refuge and respite in the fine hospitality of the K Club hotel. First, in the Vintage Crop cocktail bar, where the barman was initially flummoxed by my order of a side car but soon rose to the challenge to make my favourite drink, and then in the Byerley Turk restaurant for a dinner fit for a golfing king.
So, for all this, is shared ownership worth it? I've seen the perks, and I've seen the prices. At the top end, you're paying €325,500 for ownership and €13,850 a year for services, but of course luxury comes with such a price. I, for one, arrived sceptical and left incredibly impressed.
To make up your own mind, find out more about Firstlight at the K Club.
Famous faces who have rested their weary heads here include two former US presidents (Clinton and Bush Senior), Hollywood royalty (Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, and Samuel L Jackson), the Beckhams, and Bill Gates.